CHESTNUT HILL, Mass., Feb. 28 /PRNewswire/ -- Nearly 6,000 attendees
gathered February 27 at Boston College for a public forum on American politics
and the Catholic Church.
Moderated by NBC's "Meet The Press" host Tim Russert, "Catholic
Politicians in the US: Their Faith and Public Policy," featured an all-star
group of Catholic pundits from both right and left, including Democratic
strategist James Carville, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, former
Republican National Committee Chairman Edward Gillespie and Wall Street
Journal columnist and former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan.
The 90-minute forum, sponsored by Boston College's Church in the 21st
Century Center and billed as a look at the intersection of faith and public
policy among Catholic politicians in America, soon centered on abortion as the
evening's dominant topic.
Carville raised the issue in his opening remarks, citing polling data that
he said showed well over half of US Catholics believe that abortion should be
legal in all circumstances.
"Every day Catholics prove that you can be a good Catholic and a good
Democrat and have a different position from the Church on abortion,"
Noonan rejected the attempt to characterize abortion as a matter subject
to compromise and said that being personally opposed to abortion but
supporting abortion rights was the moral equivalent of being personally
opposed to slavery in the 1860s but supporting the right to own slaves.
"Abortion is either OK or it's not," she said.
Carville extrapolated that analogy to suggest that Noonan was comparing
young women who have abortions to 19th-century slave-owners -- a charge she
The panelists took up other controversial issues such as stem-cell
research and homosexuality, but they seemed to gravitate again and again to
the question of whether a woman should be allowed to terminate her pregnancy.
In that sense, the discussion reflected the overall debate among Catholics
during the presidential bid of US Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.
Two US bishops that year said Kerry should be denied communion because of
his support for abortion rights, and the Massachusetts Democrat went on to
lose the Catholic vote -- and the general election -- to President George W.
Kerry's defeat stood in sharp contrast to Democrat John Kennedy's 1960
White House triumph, in which the Massachusetts Catholic senator was supported
by more than four-fifths of American Catholic voters.
The migration of US Catholic voters from the Democratic Party to the GOP
during the latter half of the 20th century proved to be an underlying theme in
Monday's debate, with the conservative panelists declaring that Catholics had
been turned off by liberal excesses.
Dionne and Carville argued that while many Democrats may differ from the
Vatican on right-to-life issues, their party's platform was much more in line
with the teachings of Jesus than that of Republicans.
Dionne generated laughter from the audience when he joked that the
Church's job when it came to politics was "to make all of us feel guilty about
Referring to Kerry's 2004 defeat, he questioned whether church leaders had
focused too closely on Kerry's abortion stance.
"One of the troublesome things about the last election for a lot of
Catholics is that the Church did not seem to be an equal-opportunity guilt
producer," Dionne said. "It seemed to say that the abortion issue takes
priority over all other questions, including questions of social justice,
including questions of war and peace, including the death penalty."
Noonan said that while it was "almost inevitable" Catholics would wind up
being conservative, she also indicated that being Catholic did not necessarily
relegate a person to a particular party.
"Maybe, in part, to be Catholic is to be curious," she said. "I'm not sure
it's easy being a Catholic and a Democrat or a Catholic and a Republican, just
because it's hard in general to be a Catholic. But I think it's worth the
"Catholic Politicians in the US: Their Faith and Public Policy" is
available for viewing at http://frontrow.bc.edu
Boston College's Church in the 21st Century Center seeks to be a catalyst
and resource for the renewal of the Catholic Church in the United States by
engaging critical issues facing the Catholic community. The Center is an
outgrowth of Boston College's Church in the 21st Century initiative, which was
the first response of any Catholic university in the nation to the clergy
sexual abuse crisis. For more information: http://www.bc.edu/church21/.
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SOURCE Boston College